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Doug & Jony

Clean clicks and thin machines.


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Doug came by today to look at our MBP. Or one of them. The trackpad's no good.

This MBP's been a workhorse. A unibody model, it's one of the most durable computers we've ever had. Save possibly for a desktop years ago from Big Blue that was indestructible.

Doug's not an Apple man. Strictly speaking, he doesn't service Mac hardware, and he knows next to (less than) nothing about Macs. But we just needed someone with the right assembly of screwdrivers.

Doug went out and bought a new set of screwdrivers and came calling.

Doug is from Blighty but, like so many others, chooses to live on the continent, near the sea, as it's more like what Blighty used to be.

Doug acknowledges that people can be stupid, but sees no problem running Windows. He suspects that many of the millions of malware strains, that plagued Microsoft systems of old, no longer work, as they're 32-bit and Windows 10 is 64-bit, what he knows. Doug doesn't know much about security models or virtualisation - he's a hardware man. But of course he can add/remove software in a pinch.

These blasted screws, Doug says, as he starts opening the bottom of the MBP. He points out that three of the four screws on the bottom are longer than the others. He's done his homework.

We're expecting to see a mess inside when he finally opens it, but no way. It's mostly clean. The battery could be dusted off, and the inside of the bottom lid needs to be properly cleaned, but that's about it.

The next part of the trick is to unfasten the battery to get at the trackpad, and he does this with the greatest of ease.

The trackpad is fine. Both he and I test it. Clean clicks.

So the trackpad wasn't the issue at all.

Doug picks up the battery and frowns. 'This I don't like', he says, running his finger over what appears to be a swelling that directly interfaces with the trackpad.

We discuss matters for a while, then decide to reassemble the MBP and leave the bottom screws a bit loose, so as to give the trackpad more room, and to let the battery swell on its own.

And yes, that battery. It's lithium ion of course, the kind that explodes, the kind that forced Sony to pay for a $400 million recall programme. Lithium ion batteries are simply not safe. Other battery types are, but they're more expensive, and OEMs like to keep prices competitive.

Once upon a time, Apple laptops had a compartment on the bottom where you could lift out a battery all on your own. We still have one or two of those around here.

Then someone called Jony Ive came along. The Master of the Thin. No expense be spared, no functional cutback be omitted, everything had to be thin thinner thinner. Jony's so obsessed with thin today that he's actually got a book out documenting his thin career at Apple. The book costs $300 - which is not at all thin in price - but it's printed on high quality paper that's currently thinner than any Mac or lampshade he's designed.

Jony's original iMac design from 1992 (which was ignored until Steve Jobs returned five years later) wasn't particularly thin, but it didn't have room for a diskette drive.

Apple fans and fanboys always wonder about disappearing features. Many believe it can be Apple's way of forcing the industry to change. Another theory is it's simply because the design teams are out of touch.

Speaking of which. Jony doesn't like touch. Not on screens, that is. They say you need only walk into any Apple store to check for fingerprints on the screens to understand how many disappointed customers expect Apple pixels to be perceptive.

But they're not. Or more correctly: they are perceptive, but the perception is not used. Wasted technology. Jony doesn't like it.

Up the coast - or, rather, to the other coast, for a mild-mannered somewhat low-key product presentation. One Panos Panay presents a revolutionary product christened the Surface Studio. It's a marvel. It introduces a visceral interface between man and machine. It's an Etch A Sketch. It's more. It's a architect's place of work, it's a symphonic orchestrator's opus in progress, it's anything you want it to be. It interfaces with you - physically. And, as an added bonus, it has a wonder of a device known as Surface Dial, which seems to have gone over and into the realm of artificial intelligence. It has to be seen to be believed, but it's possible that, even then, you won't believe it.

Back to the west coast, and down from the Seattle area to comfortable Cupertino, we have another product presentation for the following day. This product presentation is called 'Hello Again' and it's going to be brief, as if the presenters just want it over and done with so they can get back to their offices and cry.

Nobody's inspired. Or inspiring. They show off a new MBP which looks like Ben Affleck in a Daredevil suit. And nothing's less inspiring than that.

This new MBP has a 'touch bar' which replaces the old row of function keys - AND the Escape key, AND the power key. Great!

Why?

It's perceptive pixels too, just like the screen. But oh noes you can't touch the screen! Oh noes! No, you gotta touch this LED strip instead! Right in the lower periphery of your vision where you normally expect nothing to move or be obtrusive. Now you got a new row of dynamically automated (and gayly coloured) emojis and stuff to play with. Isn't that grand?

Just keep your fucking fingers off the screen, please.

Apple's new MBP ('MacBook PRO') is crippled in every possible way, and the 'Pro' moniker no longer holds. Everything has been sacrificed on Jony's Altar of Thinness, and prices are soaring in classic Sculley style. Apple had a niche with their old MBP, a niche no one could attack. That MBP was of a design that was mostly unquestionable. The only question was the battery which had to be replaced (first after seven years, said Cupertino) in an authorised Apple outlet. And why? Ask Jony Ive why. Form over function - form clobbering function. But otherwise? That old MBP was perfect. Take it off the shelf, so to speak, out of the box, and it 'just worked', and it was 'insanely great'. Now the fanboys are buying hair pieces to replace scalp fuzz they'll be pulling out in their aggravation and frustration.

A dongle jungle. Incompatibility with Apple's own smartphones. A touch bar that becomes a kiddie variant of the perceptive screen everybody wants, adding eyestrain, headaches, neck pain, and backaches. An ergonomic nightmare. A design nightmare.

We've seen some questionable Apple products over the years. The easily marred TiBook with its 'born to break' hinge mechanism, replaced by the much more sensible AnalBook. The 'Gozer' scandal, when mountains of 'thermal grease' were applied to mobos and other components. And so forth. Apple make mistakes. And because they like to scrap earlier successes and keep that obsolescence train rolling full speed ahead, customers suffer and corporations steer clear. This from a company that once upon a time held the #5 slot in the list of the world's top supercomputers.

All that brilliant server hardware is gone. And it was brilliant. One needed only a single product demonstration to understand. Apple actually cut corners to make the product more amenable and more competitively priced! Apple!

But it's gone. As so many other things. The days when Dave Thomas of the FBI could claim that he and his buddies just picked up a new Apple laptop when they needed a new secure platform for the road? Long gone. Can you honestly see a hard core FBI dude playing with a Daredevil touch bar with colourful emojis?

Even the MBP configuration is off, and hardly 'pro'. That's not how 'pro' works. Perhaps in Orlando, but nowhere else. An Apple CEO who doesn't even understand anymore why people would want an actual computer in the first place. Can you picture the offices at One Infinite Loop with the programmers hunched over their iPads and new Ben Affleck MBPs with emoji touch bars? You think software quality is bad now? You ain't seen nuthin' yet!

I paid Doug and sent him on his way. Microsoft have Surface laptops, but they're ugly, and of course they run Windows, and nobody wants that shit. Doug still gets hit regularly by virus attacks, a few times per month, needs to spend most of a day cleaning his computers.

'But what does an MBP cost today?' he asks rhetorically. 'Fifteen hundred quid? For that I can buy four PC laptops, and if one should let me down, I just toss it away! It's no big deal!'

Except it runs Windows. C:\. No innate security. Spam at no extra cost. No commission for letting your Gates Box work in a criminal botnet and contribute to the Microsoft malware epidemic. All at no extra cost.

FOSS gets nowhere. RMS isn't really involved (and shouldn't be). Torvalds hates microkernel and Linux users suck up his panics. No one leads the charge against an unsafe world, and the war for the desktop isn't over. The tablet's a flop. Two thirds of Apple's revenues come from iPhone sales, and they don't give a shit about anything else. But Jony's got a new book which shows you just what a great designer he thinks he's been.

See Also
CLIX: Sierra Elementary (1)
Microsoft Surface Studio
TouchBar MacDongle
Go Your Own Way?

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